The best release so far, and likely to end up in my eventual 2007 top five, has to be Porcupine Tree's Fear Of A Blank Planet. Steven Wilson and Co. seem to have become very comfortable and proficient with the metal influence that has crept in from In Absentia onwards. This confidence has really allowed them to expand the metal influence and marry it with some of their earlier atmospheric and progressive stylings. In some ways, this album is In Absentia meets The Sky Moves Sideways, though such a categorisation is rather limiting and doesn't tell the whole story. The title track is a fantastic piece of forceful progressive metal, My Ashes and especially Sentimental are moments of haunting and eerie beauty, and Anesthetize is possibly the most eloquent 17 minute summary of what Porcupine Tree are all about. The final few minutes of Anesthetize are the most beautiful on the entire album due to some gorgeous vocal harmonies and perfect singing; I find the verse ending with "In this moment, you were stolen/There's black across the sun" to be enchanting. My only qualm is that while the thematic content is highly relevant in a contemporary context, it may potentially become dated; however, I feel the album is so well written that even if its content loses a contemporary relevance, it will remain powerful as a vivid aural snapshot of the first decade of the 21st century.
Speaking of Steven Wilson, the second effort of his side project with Aviv Geffen known as Blackfield was also released this year, entitled Blackfield II. Without a doubt, it trumps Blackfield I. The keyboards are more prominent in this release, and the songwriting is more solid and refined, with some excellent choruses, build-ups, and climaxes. Wilson's beautiful voice and Geffen's strong Israeli accent complement each other very nicely, and the two seem to have a great creative chemistry. One album track, Christenings, was originally slated for Porcupine Tree's Deadwing album but was rejected by the other band members; I have to wonder why, as the result on Blackfield II is stunning. My only quibble with the album is the title of Miss U; Wilson and Geffen better have a damn good philosophical justification for why it is not named "Miss You"!
Two albums have succeeded in surprising me. The first is Part Two of Dominici's O3 trilogy, Dominici being the eponymous name of Charlie Dominici's new band. Charlie Dominici was the singer on Dream Theater's debut album but he then faded out of the music scene until 2004, when Dream Theater invited him to make a guest appearance at a concert celebrating the 15th anniversary of the debut's release. The experience inspired his musical side, and after a mellow opening to the trilogy, he took I think most of us completely by surprise and formed a progressive metal outfit for the second album. His vocals are different nowadays (re: less Geddy Lee) and some of the lyrics seem a bit unimaginative, but on the whole, the album is a very convincing effort. It opens with an intense instrumental that would certainly get the attention of prog metal fans. And speaking of prog, the second surprise of 2007 was Neal Morse's Sola Scriptura. I expected a calm, meditative reflection on Martin Luther's life; another step in Neal Morse's move away from prog rock towards CCM. Instead, this is a sprawling Christian prog epic with some heavier moments that, in isolation, could pass for prog metal. This may just be the best album Morse has released since departing Spock's Beard. Maybe he got the hint that even Jesus loved Stranger In Your Soul.
Two other bands I follow closely have released single songs. The first is Victorious Cupid by Pure Reason Revolution. The title of this entry is my - likely inaccurate - attempt to decipher part of that song's lyrics. PRR have retained their vague and highly melodic singing style; if any band employs vocals as an extra instrument, they do! I was initially a bit unsure about the song, especially its opening, but it has really grown on me. As far as intensity goes, it picks up where Trembling Willows left off, and as a stand-alone online single, it does quite well. One of my other favourite bands, Dream Theater, also already have a new song out there, Constant Motion, which will be the lead single from the upcoming album Systematic Chaos. Unfortunately, it has not left as strong an impression on me as Victorious Cupid. The first verse wouldn't be out of place on an eighties Metallica album due to the vocal style, and the rhyming scheme in the second verse is so simplistic that I feel as if I wrote it back in grade three (night, right, fright?). The song only really kicks into gear at the halfway stage. All in all, I find it an enjoyable prog metal experience, but by no means a Dream Theater classic.
That's all I really have time for today. There's plenty more I could cover - Marillion, Pelican, Explosions In The Sky - but for the sake of brevity, I'll sign off here. Have a good one, folks!